Rapid Access International, Inc.
Telemedicine in the US is showing promise as a means to support medical care among the elderly and among those who live in rural areas. Currently, there are a number of pilot programs in the United States that help track the vital signs of a patient (such as blood pressure, heart rate, weight, and blood sugar count) through a computer and then transmit the data via the Internet to a health provider or doctor at a local hospital. In this way the data for a patient can be tracked on a daily basis to better assess their daily health conditions.
According to industry experts, the global market for Telemedicine will reach USD$18 Billion by the year 2015.（※1） Primary areas where telemedicine is having a strong impact include: diabetes control, primary or basic health care, psychiatry, genetics, radiology, pathology, cardiology, dermatology, and pediatrics. The key benefit of telemedicine is in cost savings and also the ability of a patient to have perpetual access to medical care providers through the Internet. There are additional benefits in reducing energy and the cost of gasoline or commuting costs for a patient who would normally go to the hospital for a routine procedure or consultation.
Telemedicine is on the rise due to the increasing number of elderly persons and an aging population globally. The advances in technology through a broad telecommunications infrastructure have also provided new opportunities for Telemedicine-based technologies and companies to gain market share. Also, the number of persons in the United States who do not have health insurance or who cannot afford health insurance during an economic recession is increasing. Finally, telemedicine allows persons who cannot leave their home or who live in rural areas to have access to medical care through web-based communication with their doctor or health care provider. This means that a large population of people or clients could become potentially available for telemedicine providers.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of telemedicine is to monitor heart rate, blood pressure, weight, etc of patients on a regular basis (such as daily or weekly). This is particularly helpful in monitoring the health and well-being of the elderly. In the US there are several pilot projects currently in progress. Many of these pilot projects are focusing on home health care providers (such as nurses or medical staff who visit the homes of the elderly or the sick, retirement communities, and other sites that are not located within a hospital environment. One of these projects is being conducted at a retirement community called The Woods, in Catonsville, Maryland. In this project, elderly patients are asked to use small high tech devices to help doctors in remote locations monitor their patients more efficiently. The Woods pilot project is being managed by Mr. William Russell who is the regional medical director for Erickson Retirement Communities. In the study, patients use a small computer screen that has a blinking blue light when an action is required by the patient. This activity is usually in the morning when the patient needs to register their weight, blood pressure or other basic information so a doctor can analyze the data remotely and determine if any further medical attention is required. In the study being conducted at The Woods, the hardware and technology is made by Intel.
An interesting company that has gained notoriety in 2009 is an online telemedicine company called Kooldocs.com (URL can be found at: www.kooldocs.com) This company provides patients with immediate online access to a doctor without waiting in line at a hospital or doctors office. If a doctor is not available at the time a patient has logged into their computer, then the doctor will telephone or contact the patient online within one to three hours. Kooldocs.com cannot provide service to patients for all illnesses and they are limited by the types of illnesses they can offer consultation for including: bronchitis, colds, coughs, flu, ear infections, sinus infections, laryngitis, sore throats, respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, stopping smoking, weight loss, athlete's foot, rashes, insomnia, etc. The patient does not have to provide any health insurance information or be a subscriber to the service. The fee is based on the type of consultation (for example, if the doctor needs to write a prescription for drugs, or if there is a follow up appointment needed). We accessed the Kooldocs.com website and found that the company charges a fee of $100 for the first consultation and $80 for each follow up consultation. Additional fees can be assessed for services like prescriptions for medicines and the cost of the medicine itself.
According to Mr. Russell who is working on the pilot project at The Woods retirement community in Maryland, one of the major obstacles for telemedicine is the cost. Government grant programs are now being put in place through federal agencies such as Health and Human Services (HHS) or through the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help health care providers communicate more efficiently with their patients. According to Federal Computer Week (a major government news source in the United States), the USDA will grant $34.9 million to support telehealth projects in rural areas .（※2） Much of this funding is provided for the telecommunications infrastructure to support Telemedicine. Another problem of telemedicine companies is that many of them do not take payment through insurance companies. In many cases, an online payment is assessed to the patient (usually from a credit card or from a debit to the patient's bank account).
There is a strong rising demand for home health care services including telemedicine. This is largely due to the increase in the elderly population globally and also for the efficiency offered by applications in telemedicine. Patients who have serious accidents or illnesses are not the target markets for telemedicine, but for the monitoring of everyday health information or for assisting with minor problems or illnesses, this industry will help solve many of the current problems faced by the healthcare industry.
（※1）Global Industry Analysts, Inc. “Global Telemedicine Market to Exceed $18 Billion by 2015,” (April 6, 2009).
（※2）“USDA To Grant $34.9M for Telehealth Projects Targeting Rural Areas,” Federal Computer Week (November 13, 2009)
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